Facing a federal investigation and allegations of wage theft, Atlanta restaurateur Giovanni Di Palma has settled his case. The owner of Antico Pizza Napoletana, Gio's Chicken Amalfitano, Bottega Luisa, Caffe Gio, and Bar Amalfi in Westside's "Little Italia" will pay $330,000 in back wages and liquidated damages for 60 employees of restaurants operated by Antico Foods LLC, reports Jennifer Leslie of 11 Alive News.
Federal investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division found that Di Palma "routinely directed his employees to work as many as 30 hours of overtime per week, yet avoided paying them proper compensation." Di Palma allegedly intimidated his employees, firing four who he believed were cooperating with the investigation and threatening to deport undocumented workers if they testified against him. He previously denied the allegations and criticized the investigation through his attorney.
Update — September 24, 1:45 p.m. In a statement provided to Eater Atlanta, Di Palma continued to deny the allegations, despite the settlement for payment of back wages:
"We are happy to get this settlement behind us so we can fully focus on moving forward with our growth strategy," Di Palma said. "None of the verbal allegations from former employees were proven, and we have been fully compliant and transparent throughout the labor audit and are thankful the government was reasonable in our meetings to hear our comments and arrive at a fair settlement.
"The owners are very pleased the audit made clear that no employee was ever paid below minimum wage as the auditors expressed in their findings. Many other successful restaurants have met the same growing pains, and like those same restaurants, we are thrilled to say we now have a solid foundation to continue our expansion and be fully compliant to our valued staff."
Update — September 24, 3:30 p.m. In its press release regarding the settlement, the U.S. Department of Labor painted a different picture:
"Investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division found that Giovanni Di Palma routinely directed his employees to work as many as 30 hours of overtime per week, yet avoided paying them proper compensation. Instead, Di Palma paid some workers a straight salary, and improperly classified others, such as kitchen staff, as exempt from overtime. The FLSA requires employees be paid one-and-one-half times their regular hourly rates for every hour worked beyond 40 per workweek.
"Additionally, Di Palma misclassified an administrative assistant as an independent contractor, thereby denying her the protections of minimum wage and overtime laws. Misclassified employees are often denied access to the critical benefits and protections they are entitled to such as workers' compensation if they're injured on the job, and unemployment insurance in the event of job loss. Misclassification also generates substantial losses to federal and state governments in the form of lower tax revenues."